Different viewpoint

Steve Otto, Somerset West

Norman McFarlane’s (“Dispossession and original sin”, Bolander September 26), is in essence racist and serves only to stir up hatred of blacks against whites.

While there is some truth (although one-sided and grossly exaggerated) in what he says in respect of the Khoikhoi and San, he is very wrong in respect of the blacks.

They were not in all of South Africa before the whites. They came from up north and the whites came from down south.

The whites developed uninhabited arable land and even successfully some non-arable, but never dispossessed blacks to acquire it.

They would have been very stupid to attempt this since they were always hopelessly outnumbered and at the risk of being exterminated.

The only aggression of the whites against the blacks was in self-defence. And when they prevailed they did not then exterminate all the blacks to take their land.

It was in their interest to live at peace with the blacks and in some cases they served as a buffer between conflicting black tribes.

For instance, in 1834 the Pondo’s King Faku gave the land between the Mbashe and Mkomazi rivers to the whites to serve as a buffer between his people and Dingaan’s people.

There were numerous other agreements, treaties, barters, etc. between the whites and different black tribes in those days, some of them in terms of which whites did acquire some land, but never by conquest or dispossession/theft.

In contrast, some black tribes took land from weaker tribes by conquest. Shaka, for instance, chased the Matabeles off their land and all the way to the present Zimbabwe.

There are written records of almost all the land history in this country, yet the ignorance in some quarters is astonishing.

An EFF member recently, in a debate on land expropriation without compensation, said that the Zulus under Shaka had a printing press and newspaper!

Let’s debate and negotiate the land issue by all means, but not from the absurd standpoint that the whites stole the land from the blacks.

Norman McFarlane responds:

Attributed variously to Niccolò Machiavelli and Winston Churchill, the aphorism “history is written by the winners” has currency in this debate.

George Orwell, writing in his column in The Tribune in February 1944 about the Spanish Civil War, noted the many conflicting accounts of the war, and the numerous questions that arose. “In no case do you get one answer which is universally accepted because it is true: in each case you get a number of totally incompatible answers, one of which is nally adopted as the result of a physical struggle. History is written by the winners.”

Mr Otto has, it appears, fallen prey to history as it was written by the winners in South Africa: the various colonial and post colonial administrations, up to the commencement of our democracy.

The tired tropes that there were swathes of uninhabited land in southern Africa; that all land acquired by whites was legitimately acquired and not taken by force; that the whites, despite their sophisticated European weaponry, were under constant threat of anhilillation; that “there are written records of almost all the land history in this country” and many more, all derive from that winners’ history.

Mr Otto’s suggestion that “the only aggression of the whites against the blacks was in self-defence” is utter nonsense. A single refuting example (there are many more) is the Xhosa Wars which endured for 100 years from 1779 to 1879.

In that conflict, the amaXhosa people were initially forced east and dispossessed of their ancestral land, later losing all independence by unilateral annexation, and becoming a vassal state of the British Crown, under the aegis of Cape governor, Bartle Frere.

Frere later deployed the same tactics to initially dispossess the amaZulu people of their land and thereafter annex the independent Zulu kingdom.

This is all in the history books.